By Chris Adams

Pete Earley built a career as a reporter and author writing about people’s problems.

“Crazy” brought his journalistic life and his personal life together.

That’s the word a police officer used after Earley’s son had taken a car for a ride and – not sure whether he was awake or dreaming – let go of the wheel and shut his eyes. The car crashed into a parked vehicle, proving that he had been awake.

“Your son is crazy,” the police officer told Earley.

The harrowing episode became part of “Crazy: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness,” a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in general nonfiction in 2007. The book is both his personal story and a deeply-reported foray into the Miami-Dade County jail, where he was given complete, unrestricted access for a year to shadow inmates and patients.

In a session with National Press Foundation fellows, Earley described his personal story, his reporting expedition in Miami-Dade, and his transition from journalist to advocate, at least on mental health issues. Today, he speaks around the U.S. and in other countries about the need to properly detain and screen people who have committed crimes but need to be treated, not jailed.

He also shared resources detailing several different organizations that journalists can call on to learn about mental health. He also gave his assessment on where the groups stand on a range of ideological and treatment issues.